With permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the classification of cannabis. In July 2007, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minster announced that we would seek the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, as we are obliged to do by statute, on the classification of cannabis. I am grateful to the council for its work, and I have placed a copy of its report in the Library of the House. In reaching my decision, I have also taken into account the views of others, particularly those responsible for enforcing the law, and the public—58 per cent. of whom, according to a survey carried out for the council, favour upgrading cannabis from class C.
Cannabis use is falling significantly across all age ranges, and this is a testament to the success of the Government’s drug strategy. However, I am concerned to ensure that the classification of cannabis reflects the alarming fact that a much stronger drug, known as skunk, now dominates the cannabis market. I want it to be clearly understood that this powerful form of cannabis is an illegal and harmful drug.
Today I am publishing the results of a study undertaken with 23 police forces across England and Wales. This provides clear evidence that skunk now makes up 80 per cent. of street-seized cannabis, compared with 30 per cent. in 2002. Furthermore, its potency has increased nearly threefold since 1995. The advisory council’s report confirms that cannabis use poses a real threat to health. The council is concerned about its use among young people, and points to growing evidence of a causal link, albeit a weak one, between cannabis use and psychotic illness.
The council acknowledges that use of stronger cannabis may increase the harm to mental health. Young people may be more at risk if they first use it at an early age, and the council refers to the average age of first use being 13. It suggests that some young people might “binge smoke” to achieve the maximum possible intoxication, in the same way as some treat alcohol, and it concludes that if they do, the consequences
“may be very serious to their mental health”.
The council also believes that the evidence of the impact of stronger cannabis may not be clear for some years to come. It has recommended that cannabis remain a class C drug.
I have given the council’s report careful consideration. Of its 21 recommendations, I accept all bar those relating to classification. I have decided to reclassify cannabis, subject to parliamentary approval, as a class B drug. My decision takes into account issues such as public perception and the needs and consequences for policing priorities. There is a compelling case for us to act now rather than risk the future health of young people. Where there is a clear and serious problem, but doubt about the potential harm that will be caused, we must err on the side of caution and protect the public. I make no apology for that. I am not prepared to wait and see.
To reflect the more serious status of cannabis as class B, I am clear that a strengthened enforcement approach for possession is required. As the Association of Chief Police Officers said last week:
“Should the decision be taken to reclassify cannabis, we would expect to see increased robust enforcement activity particularly in cases involving repeat offenders or where there are aggravating circumstances.”
I firmly believe that while our response must remain proportionate and offer discretion to police officers, a system of escalation is necessary. I have therefore written to ACPO today, seeking its views on a clear and workable system of escalation that is consistent with reducing police bureaucracy and maintaining discretion. That will include considering cannabis warnings, which were introduced by ACPO in 2004 to ensure that action was taken when someone was found in possession of cannabis. Prior to that, the police had to choose whether to make an arrest or to take no action. I am not against cannabis warnings, but I believe that it is unacceptable for someone to receive more than one warning and for that warning not to be properly recorded.
I am fully aware that the system we adopt will be delivered by those on the front line, and I have asked ACPO to involve other police organisations and criminal justice partners in developing its proposals. The new approach to enforcement will not, of course, preclude officers from immediately effecting arrest. For those under 18 caught in possession, I am content that the current procedure, which uses a reprimand, a final warning and then charge, provides an appropriate escalation mechanism.
In the last few years we have seen a massive growth in the commercial cultivation of cannabis in the UK. This cannot be tolerated. We know that the “cannabis farms” are controlled by organised criminals who stand to make large profits and who, as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre has found, will stoop to using trafficked children on such premises. Reclassifying cannabis will help to drive enforcement priorities in shutting those farms down.
ACPO and the Serious Organised Crime Agency are responding to this threat. There is a dedicated ACPO lead on cannabis cultivation and it is working with SOCA on a co-ordinated, targeted and robust approach to cannabis farms. That involves building a national profile of these criminal activities, using forensic and other intelligence to make the links between individual farms and organised criminal gangs. We must also focus on other ways to combat the problem. Energy suppliers are currently losing significant revenue through abstraction by organised gangs running cannabis farms. I have today written to the chief executives of the six largest energy suppliers, asking them to work with us to identify abuse and target those groups.
We have already introduced statutory aggravating factors where supply is made on, or in the vicinity of, school premises, and where a courier under the age of 18 is used. I accept the advisory council’s recommendation for additional aggravating factors to be introduced concerning the supply of drugs in the vicinity of colleges and universities, mental health institutions and prisons.
I also accept the council’s recommendation for more effective regulation of the trade in cannabis paraphernalia. It is unacceptable for cannabis use to be glamorised in any way. We will work with ACPO to look at how existing legislation and powers can be used by the police, local authorities and other partners to curtail the sale and promotion of such items.
As the council makes clear, this is an important public health issue, and one that a change in classification alone will not resolve. Through campaigns such as the “Frank” campaign, we will continue to make the public aware of the health harms associated with cannabis use. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health will also ensure the following: that we update our messages on the harms caused by cannabis; that we look into providing more advice on the health risks and where to get help through NHS Direct, NHS Choices, the Smoking Helpline, Drinkline and other public information points; that we publish a report on the health risks associated with smoking cannabis and tobacco, and, where appropriate, include advice on cannabis misuse in NHS smoking cessation services; and that we seek the advice of the four UK chief medical officers on what more needs to be done to reduce the risks to public health.
My decision to reclassify cannabis is part of the relentless drive to tackle drugs and the harm they bring to families and communities, and I will seek to do that by the end of the year. This is the right action to protect the public, particularly the future health of young people and the most vulnerable, and I commend this statement to the House.
I thank the Home Secretary for giving me advance sight of her statement. First, may I say that I fully support the Government’s decision to upgrade the classification of cannabis to class B, even if their decision to do so has come rather late? The Government’s historically lax approach to drugs has been a hallmark of our broken society under Labour. The UK has the worst level of overall drug abuse in Europe. Drug crimes have increased by almost a half under this Government, and Britain has the highest rate of teenage cannabis abuse in the European Union. We all hope that today’s statement means that the Government now recognise that cannabis is a very dangerous drug—that it wrecks lives, is a gateway to harder drug abuse and fuels crime.
Let us examine the hard facts. As the Home Secretary intimated, since the 1970s the strongest psychiatrically damaging component of cannabis—THC—has increased by about four or five times in skunk cannabis, and the other chemical composition of the cannabis may have altered in a way to exacerbate the psychiatric harm. A survey of 35 studies published in The Lancet medical journal concluded that modern cannabis users are 40 per cent. more likely to develop psychotic illness. Certainly the number of anti-psychotic drugs prescribed to young people has doubled in the last decade.
Much of this information has been known for years, so does the Home Secretary accept that, on the grounds of psychiatric damage alone, the 2004 decision was an utterly avoidable mistake? The Government’s decision in January 2004 to downgrade cannabis sent out precisely the wrong message, by encouraging the public and impressionable young people to believe that cannabis did not cause serious harm and would not be taken seriously by the police.
Last week, the Prime Minister—I am glad to see that he is still present—said about cannabis-taking that
“we really have got to send out a message to young people—this is not acceptable.”
Does the Home Secretary accept that the downgrading of cannabis by her predecessor in 2004 sent entirely the wrong message both to young people and to the police force? Does she recognise that since that reckless decision, the number of cannabis factories, to which she referred, has more than doubled? Furthermore, the number of adults treated for cannabis abuse has increased by 51 per cent.; hospital admissions for mental illness connected with cannabis have risen by nearly a quarter; and cannabis has served as a gateway to even more harmful drugs, with class A drug abuse increasing by 43 per cent. in the past year alone. Does she accept that the effect of the policy change has been to increase the size of the cannabis market and to damage, if not destroy, many more young lives?
This long-awaited U-turn has followed delay, dithering and indecision, when the country cries out for leadership. As the Prime Minister is sitting here, I have a question for him. He announced his intentions on this policy a year ago, but in the meantime, he wasted a year by handing it to an advisory body, which he has now ignored. The Home Secretary told us in her statement that that was required by statute—but I am unaware of any statute that required them to take a year to consider evidence that has been around for half a decade. On the Home Secretary’s own figures, 2,000 new cannabis factories will have started up during that delay, and thousands of young people will have become addicted to cannabis unnecessarily. In due course, many will end up on hard drugs or in hospital unnecessarily, all because this Government could not make up their mind.
I welcome the right hon. Gentleman’s support for my statement. However, I must take issue with his suggestion that, somehow or other, we have taken a lax approach to drugs in this country over the past 10 years: we have not. That is why drug use is falling; that is why we have doubled the number of people able to get drug treatment; and that is why, as a result, the acquisitive crime most closely linked to drug use has fallen by 20 per cent. All that is due to the decisions and the success not only of the Government’s drugs strategy, but of many people working in both law enforcement and drug treatment services. They should be recognised for their efforts in supporting that strategy,
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman about the links to mental health. It is precisely the relationship between the increased strength of cannabis, particularly skunk, and, as the advisory council points out, the potential future danger of young people, in particular, binge smoking it, and the uncertainty, at least, about the resulting impact on their mental health that have driven today’s decision.
However, the right hon. Gentleman then accuses the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs of delaying the decision. That body was set up under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, and when considering the reclassification of a drug, it is a statutory requirement to take advice from it. As I said in my statement, I thank the advisory council not only for the 21 recommendations that it has made today, the vast majority of which I support and we will implement, but for the careful way in which it took evidence, not only from large numbers of professionals and academics, but from the public, 58 per cent. of whom agreed with the decision that we are taking today. The right hon. Gentleman may wish to rush to decisions and to throw out such important processes and evidence gathering, but I do not believe that other people do.
Finally, I must mention the right hon. Gentleman’s brass neck when he referred back to the 2004 decision. I must give him his due, because he has probably always taken a consistent approach to the reclassification of cannabis—
Unfortunately, that has not always been the case with everybody on the Conservative Benches. The right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) supported, in a Home Affairs Committee vote—on the record—the downgrading of the classification of cannabis from B to C. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (David Davis) talks about reckless decisions, but perhaps he would like to take the matter up with his own leader before he levels that charge at us.
I strongly welcome the Home Secretary’s statement, especially what she said about toughening up enforcement. In the Select Committee’s last meeting to consider this issue, it accepted the harmful effects of cannabis and the fact that its use should be discouraged. What steps is she taking with her Cabinet colleague the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to ensure that his Department works with the Home Office to get the message across to young people about the need to discourage cannabis use? What new resources will she allocate for that purpose?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point, especially about young people. We are allocating more than £6 million this year, partly to the “Frank” campaign, which has proven very successful, with a high rate of recognition among young people, and in increasing by 12 percentage points the number of young people who now recognise that cannabis impacts on mental health. The drugs strategy, published at the end of February, made it clear that, together with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, we will work closely with parents through a new coalition of family charities; improve the information and guidance available to all parents; and continue to provide important drug advice through “Frank”, and also through improving universal education and information for children and young people about drugs, alcohol and other volatile substance misuse. That drugs strategy, together with the proposals that I have set out today, forms a coherent approach that sees reclassification as the start of the process, not the end. It also takes seriously the responsibility to ensure that the public health messages sent to young people and others are communicated clearly.
I, too, thank the Home Secretary for advance sight of her statement. Does she agree that her move will not accelerate the falls in cannabis use or the falls in psychosis, nor will it cut crime? Will she describe now the circumstances in which a five-year custodial sentence would be appropriate for cannabis possession? Will she now confess that evidence plays no part in her policy? Will she save public money by disbanding the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, and establishing a new committee—a committee of tabloid newspaper editors, given that the biggest influence on her policy is the Daily Mail, not the facts?
I take it that the hon. Gentleman is against the decision that I have taken today. No, I will not disband the advisory council. It has made some important recommendations, which we will follow through. Nor do I accept his suggestion that the decision will have no impact on crime or mental health. I have spelled out how the reclassification will help to drive police priorities, especially in tackling the serious organised crime now involved in the cultivation of cannabis here and internationally. I have also asked the police to look carefully at enforcement for possession, including escalation.
The hon. Gentleman’s response is no surprise when we consider the history of the Liberal Democrats’ drug policy. Theirs is the party that wants to legalise the sale of cannabis, that does not want to penalise those who grow cannabis, and that wants to end all jail sentences for drug possession and downgrade ecstasy from class A to class B. When they have sorted their own policy out, I will take the hon. Gentleman’s questions a little more seriously.
As someone who opposed the declassification in 2004, I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her decision today. Does she agree that one thing that young people need is clear and accurate information about various kinds of drugs? I thank her for making it unambiguous that cannabis does cause harm.
I thank my right hon. Friend; he is right. We have sometimes been charged with using the classification system to send a message—but in fact part of its function, as the advisory council accepts, is indeed to send the clear and unambiguous message that the use of cannabis is dangerous and harmful to health, and should not happen. If there is more that we can do to support parents and others in giving that message to children, we should take that opportunity, and that is what I have done today.
I agree with the Home Secretary’s statement today. In fact, last year the “Breakthrough Britain” report called for this change after taking evidence from more than 3,000 people who work in the drugs industry. However, it is not enough just to threaten people with a prison sentence. We took evidence from Sweden and it was clear that it put alongside the prison sentence a full abstinence-based rehabilitation programme for every single person arrested by the police. That is the missing bit of the equation, and I urge the Home Secretary to consider it, and work to get people off drugs. Abstinence-based programmes will be the key in the future.
The right hon. Gentleman has taken a clear evidence-based approach to this issue. He is right to say that we need to ensure that when people are sent to prison we emphasise the need to help them to get off drugs. That is why we have brought about a tenfold increase in investment in and provision of drug treatment in prison. It is also why it is already the case that when young people are stopped and found to be in possession of drugs, they are referred to the youth offending team and assessed for the support that they need to get off drugs. It is also why, in the drugs strategy published at the end of February, we were clear that abstinence should be the aim of drug treatment—but that with many serious drugs the addiction is a chronic illness, from which it may take between five and eight years to recover. Abstinence should of course be the aim, and the additional investment that we have put into drug treatment has ensured that it is now far more successful.
This will be hailed as another tough policy—but, sadly, tough policies have never worked. We have the worst drug problem in Europe, alongside the harshest penalties. I urge my right hon. Friend to look at the new convention on drugs accepted by the Council of Europe, which seeks to move the emphasis away from the criminal justice system and locking people up for using drugs, towards systems that work—the health outcomes. We have a good record in recent years in concentrating on the health outcomes, but we have had 37 years of tough policies. When can we have an intelligent policy?
My hon. Friend, too, has taken a consistent position on this issue. My only disagreement with him is that I do not think that we need to make a choice between enforcement and the emphasis on treatment that he advocates. Both the previous drugs strategy—over the past 10 years—and the newly published strategy enable us to send out a tough message on enforcement and to invest in prevention and treatment. That approach has resulted not in failure, as he claims, but in considerable success in reducing the usage of all drugs at all ages.
I very much welcome the Government’s U-turn on this matter, but will the Home Secretary accept that the years between the downgrading of cannabis and today have been a wasted opportunity? Will she also accept that if she is concerned about enforcement, she should consider the possibility of fixed penalty fines, as they do not involve the police in all the hassle of cautions and court cases, but do act as a deterrent and are relatively quick to administer?
On the right hon. Lady’s first point, I must point out that notwithstanding the decision to reclassify in 2004, cannabis use has continued to fall, because of other actions that we took. However, she makes an important and useful point about the use of fixed penalty notices. ACPO has suggested those as a possible way to escalate the enforcement response to possession, and I hope that it will hear her words, and what I have said about the issue.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s robust approach to prevention and protection. Will she join me in congratulating Luton police on closing down large numbers of cannabis factories run by illegal immigrants, who are often exploited? Will she also look at the possible exploitation of another vulnerable group, namely drug addicts seeking to rehabilitate themselves, who are being lured into private rehabilitation clinics that have no discernable regulation and can easily exploit very vulnerable people? In one case in my constituency, such a clinic employs ex-convicted drug addicts. Will the Secretary of State urgently look into this to ensure that people are properly rehabilitated within a proper drugs strategy?
I will take the opportunity that my hon. Friend has offered to congratulate the police in Luton on their action in closing down cannabis farms. A lot of good work has been done across the country by police forces and others. I accept what my hon. Friend says about the danger to drug users when they are lured into private rehab clinics that lack good regulation. That is precisely why, as part of the drugs strategy, we also emphasise the need to continue to develop high-quality drug treatment that is appropriately regulated. I will certainly bear in mind my hon. Friend’s points.
The Science and Technology Committee considered drug classification in its report of 2005-6 and concluded that it was not based on clear evidence. The Secretary of State has indicated yet again that the decisions being made are not based on evidence, but are an example of Government policy dictated by others—I shall not mention the Daily Mail, as my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) did.
A key issue that the Secretary of State brought up in the statement is the need to toughen up law enforcement. This is a law enforcement issue, but she has made no reference to why we cannot close down illegal cannabis factories using the current law. That has nothing to do with classification. If she is so concerned about young people, why are the under-18s the only group for whom she intends not to change the current law enforcement?
As chair of the Science and Technology Committee, the hon. Gentleman produced a report to which the Government responded in detail at the time and, I think, we rejected the main recommendation that there should be a fundamental change in the classification process. I dispute the suggestion that the decision is not based on evidence. As I have outlined, the decision is based not inconsiderably on the evidence that I have produced today from the survey that we commissioned of police forces about the strength of skunk, linked to what the advisory council has identified as a potential and serious threat arising from the relationship between young people binge smoking and much more potent and stronger cannabis. Of course, in making my decision I needed to bear in mind the impact on police priorities. A reclassification from class C to B will be likely to drive police priorities and sentencing when it comes to drug dealing and cultivation. I also needed to bear in mind the impact on public perception. Neither police priorities nor public perception are part of the remit of the advisory council.
The current law on possession and young people already enables an escalation from reprimand to final warning to charge. The problem for those over the age of 18 is that enforcement does not allow that process of escalation. I am asking the police to find a way to provide that.
As someone on the Labour Benches who voted against the downgrading of cannabis, I welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. Does she agree that although this move is not a panacea to the drugs problem in this country, it sends a clear message and supports the many parents in my constituency who want to send the right signal to their children? It is important that we have now sent a message that smoking cannabis is wrong and harmful. We should get that message across and unite behind it.
My hon. Friend is right. The advisory council is clear that the use of cannabis is not only illegal but seriously harmful to health. I believe that it is our responsibility to make clear to people the fact that cannabis is harmful. My hon. Friend makes an important point about the need to reinforce support for parents who sometimes have a difficult job in making clear to their children the dangers that they face. One such danger is the potential use of cannabis, and I want to do everything I can to support parents in protecting their children from the certain health dangers that come from the use of cannabis.
May I assure the Home Secretary that my right hon. and hon. Friends wholeheartedly support her action in reclassifying cannabis to a class B drug? We believe that she will have the support of people throughout the UK. It is true that the scourge—indeed, the blight—of drugs in society is a public health issue that will be solved by no single piece of legislation. Does the Home Secretary agree that it is essential that her decision is enforced robustly by the police alongside an extensive rehabilitation strategy?
The hon. Gentleman is right. The fact that under the current system it is possible for an adult to be given more than one warning on cannabis and there is the possibility that those warnings have not been properly recorded, demonstrates that the system is not as robust as the measures that a class B classification would require. That is why the police have recognised the need for a more robust and escalated response and why I have asked them urgently to provide me with advice about a workable way to deliver that.
My right hon. Friend will rest assured that the Cheshire police, who do an excellent job in closing down cannabis farms, will welcome her announcement. May I press her on one particular issue where the police are finding difficulties? When the police close down cannabis farms and arrest workers in the farms—who are usually illegal immigrants—they take them in front of the magistrates court. The magistrates grant those immigrants bail, and they then disappear and set up work elsewhere. Will the Secretary of State use her influence to ensure that when the police take people before the courts they are refused bail, so that the police can get on with prosecuting them?
I am not sure that I can use my influence on bail decisions, which are of course rightly for the court system. However, my hon. Friend makes an important point about the relationship between immigration crime and policing. That is why we are developing strong immigration crime partnerships across the country, where the local police work with those in the UK Border Agency to ensure that illegal immigrants are not even taken to court, but that the action that is warranted by the fact that they are illegal is taken. In many cases, that may well mean deportation.
Every wretched, pathetic heroin addict whom I have to sentence began their drugs career in their teens on cannabis and skunk. That is why I am a little disappointed that the Home Secretary is retaining the system of reprimand, warning and so on for those aged 18 and under. May I urge her to think again and to realise that to catch the problem early by making access to rehab compulsory at the very beginning for cannabis takers in their teens, as they do in Sweden, would have a better effect than just issuing a warning and so on?
No. If it were only a warning, I would agree with the hon. Gentleman, but let me make it clear that the escalation process for young people already involves taking people to the police station and a reference to the youth offending team with assessment for drug treatment and rehabilitation. I believe that that is an important element of preventing young people from going on to more serious drugs. On the hon. Gentleman’s point about the gateway, the advisory council does not believe that cannabis has a particularly strong gateway effect.
We know very little about the abuse of substances and the damage it does to the mind. That includes alcohol, incidentally, as well as cannabis. Will my right hon. Friend persuade the Government to make far more money available for research to establish whether there are causal links between drug misuse and mental illness?
As part of the drugs strategy that we published in February, we said that drug addiction should be a priority for the Medical Research Council. The advisory council has put forward recommendations for more research into the link with mental health, so I think that my hon. Friend makes an important point.
The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs looked at the questions of harm, potency and the potential for binge smoking and recommended that cannabis should be class C. So the Government’s proposal to make it class B cannot be rational or based on evidence about any of those issues: instead, it has to be based on what the police have asked for and on the Government’s perception of public views. When the police give more priority to policing the possession of cannabis, what will they deprioritise? Does the Home Secretary accept that the policy that she has announced today drives a coach and horses through any claim that the Government might make about making evidence-based policy in this area?
First, we have long known that the classification of cannabis arouses both controversy and differing views. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues seem to be suggesting that there is a single, simple and objective scientific view on the matter, but there is not and their approach undermines the knowledge that he usually displays about scientific matters. In addition to the evidence in the advisory council report, it is perfectly reasonable to take into consideration evidence and views about police priorities and public perception. That is what I have done, and I believe that it will provide a route for the police to prioritise—as they should—action against serious organised crime based on dealing. With respect to possession, I have asked the police to find ways that will help to provide the escalation that I have talked about in a way that is workable and reduces bureaucracy. I believe that it will be possible to do that.
When a Minister says that a policy is designed to send out a signal, that is a sure symptom that it contains no substance, as the Home Secretary should be aware. She will know that I take a view that is very unpopular on both sides of the House—that the key substantive goal is to break the link between the supply of cannabis and the supply of hard drugs, and to stop driving soft drug users into the arms of hard drug pushers. Is there anything in her statement that addresses that issue? Has she considered the evidence from Holland, where far fewer people move from cannabis to hard drugs, because they get cannabis from people who do not push hard drugs?
In Holland, of course, the policy is being reviewed, because of a lack of success. I did identify the point made by the advisory council about whether cannabis was a gateway drug. The council’s view, and that of others, tends to be that it is not a significant gateway drug, so the decisions that I have announced today are based largely on the certain danger to health from the use of cannabis, on the very considerable risks extending into the future attached to the relationship between cannabis use and mental health problems, and on the certain link to serious organised crime. Given those considerations, I believe that the reclassification of cannabis is right. I do not feel that I have to apologise for wanting to send a clear message or signal about the danger of cannabis—although, as I have spelled out today, that will of course be backed up by extremely practical actions to maintain our commitment to keeping cannabis use in this country on a downward trend.
Does the Home Secretary accept that her predecessor’s decision in 2004 to downgrade cannabis has encouraged the large-scale commercial development and sale of skunk? Did it not undermine the principles that she has been trying to outline today? While reclassification is highly desirable, surely it demonstrates the folly of her predecessor’s decision.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman might like to take that up with the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who agreed with the decision at the time. I do not believe that it was necessarily wrong, nor that it has led to the development of organised crime and cannabis farming, but I do believe that there has been a considerable change in the strength of skunk and the proportion of the market that it now takes up. Alongside its potential relationship with serious mental health problems, that is what has driven my decision today.
I very much welcome the Home Secretary’s statement. She said that there is a compelling case to act now, but in her statement she made it clear that she would not be able to introduce the reclassification until the end of the year. My Bill on the reclassification of cannabis is coming up for its Second Reading on Friday: why do the Government not adopt it, so that they could get the reclassification on the statute book a lot sooner?
The process requires parliamentary approval, and the impact assessment is the appropriate way to introduce the reclassification. The route that I am proposing is the one already laid down in legislation, and I believe that it can achieve our goal quickly.
Now that the Home Secretary has taken this important decision, may I urge her to consult the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and leading campaigners against the illegal use of drugs among children? They should look carefully at how drugs education in schools can be improved, so that young people get real warnings about the consequences of drug use. Will she also take a fresh look at the website “Frank”? Sometimes it can trivialise the subject, and make it look like a bit of a joke.
I have already discussed the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families. The hon. Lady is right that we need to improve drugs education in our schools, and we said as much in the drugs strategy. However, I disagree with her about “Frank”: the site has had considerable success in getting traction with young people, and in increasing the proportion of young people who recognise that there is a link between cannabis and mental health problems. Sometimes, advertising campaigns that are not convincing for those of us of a certain age nevertheless work on those for whom they are intended.
The Home Secretary has talked about robust enforcement and drugs treatment, so why is the cannabis strategy so divorced from reality? Why does not the Serious Organised Crime Agency have a target to enforce the interdiction against cannabis coming into this country? Why do people presenting themselves to police stations, courts or prisons find that there is no dedicated cannabis rehabilitation? Why do drugs courts have no power—
I do not necessarily agree with the hon. Gentleman, as important work is already going on. When SOCA produces its annual report, he will see that it has made considerable progress in preventing the import of illegal drugs and their trade in this country. I take very seriously the views of people on the front line who are responsible for enforcement, and it is for that reason that we will work through the enforcement process with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the other bodies who will carry it out.
As a parent and someone who had not been elected to this House in 2004, may I say that I greeted the downgrading of cannabis with some bemusement? The Government downgraded cannabis but kept its possession a criminal offence. Does the Home Secretary accept that allowing criminals to control the strength of the substance being supplied to young people meant that it was inevitable that they would get a bad lot? I am pleased by the regrading, but will she elaborate on what she said in her statement about what she called the glamorisation of cannabis paraphernalia? Is she seriously suggesting that we should criminalise people for wearing t-shirts or pendants decorated with leaves? What will happen to the people who provide that merchandise?
No, I am not suggesting that but, as a parent, I do not want head shops on my high street. They have cannabis leaves in the window and flog the stuff that people use to consume cannabis. In my book, I do not want them in my neighbourhood. I do not think that anyone else should. The advisory council was clear about that, and that is why I want to work with local authorities and the police to close such shops down. I am sure that the hon. Lady, as a parent, would want that to happen.
I welcome the statement made by the Home Secretary today. May I invite her to recognise that the period of time when cannabis has been a class C drug has persuaded many young people to believe that it is neither as harmful nor as illegal as it once was? I want her to focus on two things. First, in the education programme that she has mentioned, will she focus on the strength of cannabis now, so that people are persuaded that it is not the same drug that they perceived it to be during its period of lower classification? Secondly, will she have a word with the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure that, in prosecuting offences where class B drugs such as cannabis appear on the same indictment as class A drugs, it will not quietly forget about the cannabis offences? The CPS should continue to prosecute cannabis offences fully.
The hon. Gentleman makes two fair points. First, we certainly need to look at the “Frank” campaign to make sure that the increased strength of cannabis is fully represented in it; he is right about that. Secondly, I will ensure that the Crown Prosecution Service hears his words about the requirement not to bury a cannabis offence, even if it is the lesser of two drugs offences.